Daniel Pearl, Mazen Dana, Gyanendra Khadka. All journalists killed in the line of duty. In an age when business, celebrity and international event reporting have become the three most coveted beats, these journalists stuck to what a hard-nosed hack is supposed to do: inform the public honestly and fairly. Those who live in mortal fear of truth eliminated them.
Perhaps it has something to do with the risks involved in being an independent professional that the number of journalists willing to be embedded with power is on the rise. The propagation of superficial, sterile event reporting in the name of "We report, you decide" is more rewarding than trying to do the hard work of investigating the truth.
A fence-sitting media feels that observing events and jotting down facts is enough, and someone else should explain and interpret. Explaining and interpreting is getting to be dangerous business. And the disincentives for free, fair and fearless reporting are increasingly frightening.
The market, the mafia and the military aren't the only things the media has to be wary of these days. Militants of every hue, driven by a stubborn doctrine of the righteousness of their cause, are even more dangerous enemies of the free press.
Daniel Pearl was a Jewish American reporter with the Asian Wall Street Journal who had a deep understanding of the grievances that drove downtrodden Muslims. He was kidnapped and killed by Islamic extremists. Mazen Dana was a Palestinian Arab from Hebron who was covering the war in Iraq for Reuters when he was killed by an American tank. Gyanendra Khadka (pic, inset) was a reporter in Sindhupalchok who was taken away from a school meeting this weekend, tied to a volleyball pole and shot.
Many in Kathmandu said: Gyanendra, who? Names play tricks with our memory, and commoners bearing royal names have to learn to live with sly smiles. Gyanendra Khadka was a commoner with an uncommon touch. He was a teacher in a local school and a reporter for the state-run RSS news agency in Melamchi. His colleagues considered him a fearless reporter, and it says something about the state of fear that has gripped the journalism profession that none of them are now willing to stand by their memory when blatant attempts are being made to tarnish his reputation.
As usual, the Maoists accused Khadka of being an informant. Just like they did after killing scores of others who were teachers, health post workers, or other citizens working to improve the lives of their communities. Even if there was some truth in the allegation, there was no reason to kill him so mercilessly. Fellow journalists, who were so forthcoming in censuring the security forces for the death of Krishna Sen last year, haven't been as vocal in denouncing this murder. Evidence of Khadka's complicity in helping the army are circumstantial-even the Maoists haven't suggested that he fought with them. But Sen was a card-carrying communist, a member of the Maoist politburo, an apologist of violent politics and the chief-of-publicity of the armed insurgents. Despite all that, Sen didn't deserve to die. And the cold-blooded murder of Khadka is no less unjust.
When it comes to persecuting journalists, however, the state cannot claim the moral high ground. A year ago, a journalist supposed to have been sympathetic to the insurgents was made to disappear from Jalbire in Sindhupalchok. The Maoists have killed one journalist each in Kalikot and Morang. Nobody knows why Ishwar Budhathoki (Kanchan Priyadarshi), Navaraj Sharma or Ambika Timilsina were killed.
A journalist\'s ID doesn't confer immunity on the person who holds it on behalf of the public. For the powers that be, the sword has always been mightier than the pen. Journalists are killed, and the rest of us just shed silent tears and remember Bhupi Sherchan's words:
O, the dead departed,
the ordeal of it.